Robert is on permanent disability living in Hurst, TX, after a mortar shell in Baghdad tore-off his leg below the knee. He is one of more than 2,000 US soldiers injured after President George W Bush declared the end of war in Iraq.
Robert says he fought for his child, "I fought so she could be free," pointing to his daughter. Texas is half-way around the world from Iraq and has not been invaded since the Mexican War, so a logical question might be, "Free from what?" But Robert's view maybe healthier in the long run. During 2003, low morale, substance abuse, and suicides remained largely unreported in the media, even though incidents of self-inflicted injury are of extreme concern to Pentagon officials.
Mid-year 2002, in preparation for invading Iraq, the Pentagon surveyed young men after a failed recruitment advertising blitz. The military's inability to attract recruits surprised the Pentagon after 9-11, and after a prolonged economic downturn. The Department of Defense reported that "interest in the military" has slowly decreased after the Gulf War.
Low military pay is one reason fewer men and women join the Armed Forces, according to the survey. Only 16.5 percent of recruits were satisfied with pay, compared to 59 percent of the same age group working for Fortune 100 firms. Stories from Iraq have further deteriorated the prospects for recruitment at home. Doctors of psychology, Brett Litz and Susan Orsillo, report that military personnel in Iraq are returning home exhibiting hostile behavior from anger being "insufficiently prepared" or "untrained" for what they've experienced in Iraq. Lack of direction and preparation left these veterans feeling helpless in their assigned activities.
Unlike the relatively quick Gulf War, the Iraq war fits stereotypical exposure to warfare -- weapons fire, witnessing death and injuries, and engaging in special missions or patrols -- and fit descriptions of stories from Vietnam, Korea, and WWII. Veterans of Iraq maybe far more likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome once home.
Most US soldiers in Iraq witness civilian casualties, human remains, refugees, destroyed neighborhoods, the odor of rotting carcasses, and the constant threat of being attacked; all of which create pensive, stressful life long memories during and after war.
Soldiers are likely experiencing daily irritations which fuel low morale such as, missing friends and family, deprivation of desirable food, lack of privacy, poor living or cleaning habits, long days and lack of proper protective equipment. The experience of war changes the cognitive process, even when personnel return home they will enter their "old world" unable to relate with others who fully understand their stress. Hence, post-war veterans exhibit a higher level of substance abuse, violence, suicide, and depression.
Joseph Suell took his life while serving in Iraq.
As of December 2003, 18 US troops (16 Army personnel, and two Marines) have committed suicide since Bush's declaring the war is over. No British military casualty has been attributed to suicide. Thirty-four US soldier deaths are under investigation. More than 500 US soldiers have been evacuated from Iraq for mental health reasons. The Pentagon reports that as of 8 January 2004, 495 US soldiers have died, including 154 deaths as "nonhostile," and 2,753 US military categorized as wounded. Comparitively, 53 Britons have perished.
Army PCF Corey L Small, 20, of East Berlin, PA, died of a "non-combat" related cause; witnesses say he shot himself dead while waiting to use the telephone. Small left behind a wife and 4-year-old son. Army SPC Joseph D. Suell, 24, of Lufkin, TX, died after ingesting a bottle of Tylenol. Suell left behind a wife and three children. His wife told the Associated Press that she couldn't imagine the stress and mental anguish her husband suffered in ordered to take his own life.
The true number of injuries do not coincide with Pentagon reports however. The Pentagon lists 351 injuries as "nonhostile," yet, the Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany has received 8,093 injured or sick personnel for treatment since March 2003. Additionally, it is not known how many of the sick or injured have been treated in the United States.
The Stars and Stripes newspaper for US-civilians abroad, report that Iraq-bound soldiers are disenchanted with conditions. Fifty-percent of US-soldiers rated their "morale" as low or very low. One-third of 2,000 surveyed reported that their mission was not clearly defined, or not defined at all. Less than one-third said the war in Iraq was of no value, and respondents viewed themselves as "sitting ducks," awaiting attack. Shortly after the survey was published, President Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited troops in Iraq, temporarily boosting morale and fanfare.
The US-war with Iraq is, after all a war, dotted with casualties, and approaching its first year anniversary. Since casualties only increase in any combative event, men and women serving the US-government in Iraq have a long road ahead. Perhaps Robert has the right idea for his daughter. Men and women serving the US-military are better-off thinking they indeed are fighting to be free.